At its peak, in 2006, California's in-state prison population was around 160,000 inmates. Three years later the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state to reduce it - by a lot. They found that severe overcrowding deprived inmates of their rights, and was leading to suffering, even death. Now the in-state population is just under 115,000. To help reduce it, California lawmakers passed a couple of laws. One of them is called "Realignment."
Realignment forced many criminals with low level felony convictions to do time at county jails, instead of state prison. It also allowed those released from jail, or even prison, for non-violent offenses, to be supervised by county probation rather than parole. Probation is less stringent. Officers have to oversee more criminals. And they have little recourse if probation has been violated, often only putting them in "flash incarceration." That means in jail for up to 10 days.
But realignment also meant before one is placed on probation officials don't have to consider the full criminal history. Only the last offense. Criminals know this. And a law enforcement source tells Fox News Radio, they try to take advantage of it.
Two criminals with felony records, told the law enforcement source they had plans to get picked up on lesser charges, so the last thing on their record was a misdemeanor. So they'd be on probation. In late 2011 Albert Hull, who'd previously served 14 years for attempted murder, told our source this was his plan.
Republican Assemblyman Tom Lackey who was a highway patrol officer for nearly three decades says he's not surprised. "That's unfortunately a reality that our offenders have become very aware of. And that's part of our problem," according to Lackey.
It's unclear if Albert Hull followed through on his plan. The San Bernardino County Sheriff's office says he was picked up in late 2011, right after realignment took effect. Police found gang paraphernalia during a search of his home. It was then that he told our source he'd get picked up on a lesser crime. In April 2012 Hull was arrested for receiving stolen property. While out on bail, he was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia. He was sentenced to two years in jail for the stolen property charge. Less than three years later, he faced robbery, assault with a firearm, street terrorism and a host of other charges. He was sentenced to six years for assault with a firearm.
The law enforcement source says Hull is not the only one. A felon convicted and sentenced for forgery and identity theft said his intention was also to get picked up on a "lesser charge."
The law enforcement source says many felons know how realignment works: their entire criminal history might not being considered when they're released from custody. Just the last crime. Assemblyman Lackey says he's teamed up with Democratic Assemblyman Ian Calderon to change at least some of this with a new bill. AB 1408 would require the Board of Parole Hearings to consider an inmate's entire record before deciding on a release date or supervision category. Lackey says, "a lot of these folks who've been sent to prison have repeated problems and have extensive criminal histories that should be taken into consideration before they're released."
But our source says while this bill is helpful... it won't address all criminals and all releases. Mostly because not all criminals go before the Board of Parole Hearings. Many with determined sentences of a set specific amount of time don't go before this board. And a lot of other decisions are made at the county level. When a Judge decides on a sentence, Lackey says it's the District Attorney's job to bring up issues they find important. If they want the full criminal history considered, they have to charge appropriately.
The new bill would address those brief flash incarcerations. Lackey notes that Michael Mejia, a gang member who had been to prison for robbery, was flash incarcerated five times before he allegedly killed a cop this year. "Had this bill been in place officer Keith Boyer from the Whittier Police department would've been alive." Lackey says the proposed bill would also require a hearing on whether to revoke a criminal's probation after just three violations.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says the idea that criminals would try to use the laws to their advantage is nothing new. "We hear things you wouldn't believe," according to McDonnell. "I mean they have strategies for each reform effort to work the system. A lot people have a lot of time on their hands to figure out how to do that and when they get the information they certainly share it."
He says adding to this problem is Prop 47 which voters approved in 2014, and Prop 57 went into effect May 1st, however there is a 60 day freeze on early prison release for credits earned, so no one has been released yet under Prop 57. Prop 47 reduces several crimes that were once felonies to misdemeanors. Prop 57 increases opportunities for good behavior credits in order to qualify for parole. Many in law enforcement strongly opposed both, noting that 57 classified several crimes as non-violent, like raping an unconscious person.
"We stacked the deck in favor of the criminals and we've hampered and tied the hands of our law enforcement and the ones who suffer are our communities and neighborhoods," says Robert Harris, a director on the board on the LAPD union. He says all three laws, Realignment, Prop 47, and Prop 57 have created a revolving door - criminals know if they only commit crimes now reclassified as misdemeanors, like grand theft, forgery, and fraud under $950 in value, as well as personal use of most illegal drugs, they'll just get a slap on the wrist and be back out on the streets within days. Even if they committed a more serious crime in prior years.
-By FOX's Jessica Rosenthal